How Apple blew the MacBook name game

Commentary: Apple could have avoided Mac hate by changing a single word.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
3 min read
Josh Miller/CNET

One word could have made all the difference.

"Air," instead of "Pro."

If Apple had introduced a new MacBook Air last week, the company wouldn't be facing down a mob of angry creative professionals. It might not have Apple software developers questioning whether the company has lost its way.

Because the new MacBook Pro basically is a MacBook Air -- the most impressive Air ever made.

James Martin/CNET

Let's rewind time for a moment. It's Thursday, October 27, and Apple's event is under way.

Imagine that instead of introducing the new MacBook Pro, Apple unveiled a new MacBook Air. One that's 12 percent lighter, 13 percent smaller by volume and practically the same weight -- but manages to cram in a faster Intel processor, faster graphics, plus the far sharper, brighter and more colorful Retina Display the MacBook Air so desperately needed.

Sure, it starts at $1,500 rather than $1,000, but you get twice the solid-state storage for the price -- and you can double the RAM, quadruple the storage and get the awesome new Touch Bar secondary screen with Touch ID fingerprint sensor if you're willing to pay even more.

How long has your MacBook Air had a 1.6GHz processor? This new one is 2.0GHz or 2.9GHz; there's even a 3.3GHz option.

James Martin/CNET, edited by Kelly Nelson/CNET

And sure, it's got a thinner keyboard and only two (or four) general-purpose Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of handy full-size USB ports and SD card slots. But we, Apple, figured you'd rather have a more accurate keyboard and amazing single-cable Thunderbolt 3 docking options to go with your mobile MacBook Air lifestyle.

Watch this: Apple makes Thunderbolt 3 more versatile with USB-C charger

Now, you can pull your MacBook Air right out of your manila envelope and plug in a single cable to charge it, dock with your peripherals and power multiple monitors all at the same time.

Oh, and one more thing: we knew you'd like the MacBook Air so much, we built a 15-inch model. You won't believe how fast it is -- this Air has a quad-core CPU that's 50 percent faster than last year's MacBook Pro! The graphics are over twice as fast, and yet we've kept the same 10 hour battery life as the 13-inch version.

If you've ever wanted to edit photos or home videos on a MacBook Air, this computer's for you. Oh, and it comes standard with the Touch Bar and Touch ID, too.

We think you're going to love the new MacBook Air. It's the best MacBook we've ever made.

Everything I just said is true of Apple's new laptops. But all of it describes the new MacBook Pro, not the MacBook Air.

Apple chose to market a thinner Pro instead of a faster Air, even though they're basically the same thing. And that's not lost on Apple -- it was Apple marketing VP Phil Schiller who suggested the 13-inch MacBook Pro (the one without the Touch Bar) was designed for MacBook Air buyers. (That's him in the pictures above.)

"We think that a lot of potential MacBook Air customers are going to be very excited by this product, too," said Schiller.

But the choice between a thinner Pro and a faster Air isn't just semantics -- the word "Pro" carries weight.

The new MacBook Pro is not for pros, and pros know it.

That one word could cost Apple an awful lot of customers.